Stephens, Meic, The Independent (London, England)
English writer who made Wales and its history his principal subject
Raymond Garlick was one of a handful of Englishmen who, without renouncing their own nationality, are so closely associated with Wales, its language and literature, that they are generally taken to be Welsh writers, at least by affiliation and sympathy. In Garlick's case, his identification with Wales went deeper, for he not only chose to live there but made the country's history and present condition the main theme of his work, learning the language and, during the 1970s, becoming embroiled in the struggle to win for it a measure of official status.
At the same time, he argued in favour of Wales's "other language", English, as one of the languages of a fully bilingual Wales, teaching its literature and, as poet, editor and critic, making a major contribution to its development. He was the most important critic of what he insisted on calling Anglo-Welsh literature long before it became known to a younger generation, in the 1990s, as Welsh writing in English. Welsh literature, for him, was written in Welsh, in Tolkien's phrase "the senior language of the men of Britain", and he always stuck to his guns on this cardinal point. Raymond Garlick's major work of criticism, An Introduction to Anglo-Welsh Literature (1970), demonstrated that from the late 15th century there has existed a tradition of writing by Welshmen in English which deserves wider recognition, not least in the country's schools.
Raymond Garlick was born in the London suburb of Harlesden in 1926, the elder son of a clerk in the National Bank, and was brought up on a new estate in North Harrow, a place he detested for its snobbishness and philistinism. At the age of four, after being scratched by a kitten, he contracted a mysterious disease, thought to be septicaemia but never diagnosed, and spent a year in hospital, from which he was discharged, as the result of botched surgery, with a severely damaged foot. Having to accept that he was physically disabled made this handsome man all the more determined to achieve in art what was denied him in life - hence the formal elegance of many of his poems.
Sent to convalesce with his grandparents at Degannwy on the coast of north Wales, he discovered a rugged landscape and egalitarian people with whom he felt such an immediate affinity that he asked to be transferred from Harrow Boys' County School to the sixth form of the John Bright County School in Llandudno.
After matriculation, he was sent to work in the laboratories of the Kodak factory in Wealdstone but, having felt a call to the Anglican priesthood, left to join the Community of the Resurrection in Leeds, only to fail his university examination in Latin. This result gave him an opportunity to realise an ambition, hitherto concealed, to read English and history at the University College of North Wales at Bangor, where he enrolled in 1944.
Ever of independent mind, Garlick lived as an undergraduate at Ty'r Mynydd, a cottage above the slate-quarrying village of Bethesda, insisting that he could fend for himself even in that difficult terrain. It was there, in conversation with the artist- writer Brenda Chamberlain and the artist-craftsman John Petts, that he knew himself to be a poet.
He was received into the Catholic Church in 1948, the night before he married Elin Hughes, a fellow-student, a Welsh-speaker and already a convert to Catholicism. She was a fiery ultra-nationalist whose forthright political opinions, much in line with those of Saunders Lewis, the right-wing founder of Plaid Cymru, contrasted sharply with Raymond's eirenic, democratic and gentlemanly nature.
His appointment to a teaching post at Pembroke Dock County School in 1949 proved decisive because it brought him into contact with its headmaster, Roland Mathias, also a poet and historian, with whom he was to do much of his early work in Anglo-Welsh literature. …